|Born||January 17, 1930|
Fresno, California, U.S.
|Died||April 19, 2017 (aged 87)|
Fresno, California, U.S.
Richard Joseph "Dick" Contino (January 17, 1930 – April 19, 2017) was an American accordionist and singer.
Contino was born in Fresno, California. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Contino, and he attended Fresno High School. He studied accordion primarily with San Francisco-based Angelo Cognazzo, and occasionally with Los Angeles-based Guido Deiro. At the age of about 6 or 7 years old he exhibited great virtuosity on the instrument.
Although he graduated from Fresno High School in 1947 and enrolled at Fresno State College, he was unable to concentrate on his studies. Contino explained, "I enjoyed college, but while attending classes I kept thinking that if I was going to be a success, it would be my music that would take me there." He also played piano, clarinet, and saxophone.
Contino got his big break on December 7, 1947, at age 17, when he played "Lady of Spain" (his signature piece) and won first place in the Horace Heidt/Philip Morris talent contest in Fresno which was broadcast on national radio. Contino also won first place in subsequent competitions in Los Angeles, Omaha, Des Moines, Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and New York City. He won first place in the final round on December 12, 1948, in Washington, D.C.
Eddie Fisher had much better success with the song in 1952. Contino's song "Yours" was his first hit single. The song reached #27 on the U.S. pop charts in 1954. His second and only other hit single was "Pledge My Love." It reached #42 on the U.S. pop charts in 1957.
Contino's career was interrupted when he was drafted during the Korean War. He fled from pre-induction barracks at Fort Ord due to extreme, unpublicized phobias and neuroses. In 1951, he pled guilty to evasion and was sentenced to serve six months at McNeil Island Corrections Center.
He was inducted into the army in 1952, having served four and a half months of his sentence. He was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant. Although he received a presidential pardon, the scandal dealt Contino's career a serious blow. He continued to perform, and acted in a few movies in the 1950s and 1960s.
Contino's acting became known to a new generation in 1991, when Daddy-O, a low-budget 1958 movie in which he starred as a faddishly-dressed beat rebel and singer, was shown on a third- season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The show also riffed the 1959 film Girls Town, in which Contino appeared with other musical performers, such as Paul Anka and The Platters.
He continued to perform regularly throughout the United States. His repertoire was eclectic, ranging from Italian songs such as "Come Back to Sorrento" and "Arrivederci Roma" to standards like "Lady of Spain" and "Swinging on a Star".
Novella and other fictional works
James Ellroy wrote a novella, Dick Contino's Blues, which is a mini-memoir and crime story based on Contino's experiences as a struggling artist after the war. It is included in the 1994 Ellroy short story collection Hollywood Nocturnes. A version appeared in issue number 46 of Granta magazine (Winter 1994) along with several photographs of Contino and the author. Ellroy also penned a short story entitled Hollywood Shakedown, which appeared in his collected work "Crime Wave" and featured Contino as the central character.
The story was entirely fictitious as it features numerous incidents of violence and murder which Contino had never been linked with or accused of in reality.
He appeared briefly in Ellroy's American Tabloid, the first book of his Underworld USA Trilogy, performing at a mafia-financed Cuban exile military training camp ("Contino played 'Lady Of Spain' six thousand times.").
In 2012, a biography of Contino's life, The Beauty of Imperfection, was published.
Contino died on April 19, 2017, in Fresno, at the age of 87.
- Sandomir, Richard (April 30, 2017). "Dick Contino, Accordion Heartthrob, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
- "Fresno Youth Is Victor Again In Talent Contest". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. January 5, 1948. p. 11. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- Dick Contino, cited by Bove, Bob and Angellotti, Lou (1994) Accordion Man: The Legendary Dick Contino. Father and Son Publishing, Inc., Tallahassee; ISBN 0942407296
- "Fresno Youth Is Victor In Second Talent Contest". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. December 15, 1947. p. 13. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Fresno Accordionist Wins $250 Prize On Radio Talent Program". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. December 8, 1947. p. 15. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Young Accordion Player Again Is Radio Test Victor". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. January 12, 1948. p. 9. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Contino Does It Again; Wins 8th Amateur Contest". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. January 26, 1948. p. 11. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Fresno Accordion Player Again Is Contest Winner". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. February 2, 1948. p. 13. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Contino Offers to Enlist if Allowed to Get Well". Toledo Blade. April 23, 1951. p. 3.
- "Contino's Parole Application Denied". The Kokomo Tribune. Indiana, Kokomo. Associated Press. November 9, 1951. p. 6. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Musician Contino Begins Army Hitch", Albany Democrat-Herald, Thursday, May 08, 1952
- "Dick Contino Finds He Still Fights The Battle Of His Past". Santa Cruz Sentinel. California, Santa Cruz. Associated Press. September 10, 1964. p. 5. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- Tehee, Joshua (April 21, 2017). "Famed accordionist, Fresno native, Dick Contino has died". The Fresno Bee. Retrieved April 24, 2017.